Review & preview: Maryland
Here is the seventh and final installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Thursday will begin a series checking in on the Division III schools in the state. Wednesday’s visit takes us to Maryland.
The good: The Terps achieved all sorts of objectives this past spring: first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament crown since 2005, first Final Four appearance since 2006 and first trip to the NCAA tournament final since 1998. The accomplishments would seem to validate the previous administration’s decision to hire coach John Tillman, but that’s not the approach he took. “I just felt like we had one shot at this with this group,” he said. “These seniors had had their hearts broken a number of times, and all the coaches really wanted to do was put forth all of our time and energy to put the kids in the very best position we could to have them be very proud of what they accomplished. Although we didn’t win the championship game, to extend it as far as we could extend it and maximize our time together was, to me, really important. We just enjoyed being around each other so much.” … The team excelled despite a plethora of obstacles that threatened to tear apart the inner fabric. The departure of head coach Dave Cottle and defensive coordinator Dave Slafkosky, the death of Maria Young, the mother of senior attackman Ryan Young, and injuries to senior attackman Grant Catalino, junior midfielder Joe Cummings and senior short-stick defensive midfielder Dan Burns loomed as potential emotional hazards, but Maryland dodged those pitfalls and continued on. “It was pretty inspiring to be able to do what we did with some of the things that we had going against us,” Tillman said. “… We just always kept plugging along regardless of what the setbacks were. When things got the hardest for us or when the challenges got their biggest, the guys responded pretty well.” … Questions in the preseason about the lack of experience in the net and on faceoffs were answered resoundingly by the emergence of redshirt freshman goalie Niko Amato and sophomore Curtis Holmes, respectively. Amato finished the season fourth in Division I with a 6.78 goals-against average and eighth with a .583 save percentage, while Holmes ranked seventh with a .626 faceoff percentage. “I think everybody pointed to those two areas as points of weakness,” Tillman said. “We really never felt that way – partially because we knew we had good, raw material there. We also had very strong competition in both of those areas, and that was really helpful. … I think having those guys have to compete and prove themselves and having that mindset got them ready for the challenging schedule that we play.”
The bad: For all of the team’s success, Tillman said he felt he was limited in introducing his entire plan to the team. Hired on June 15 from Harvard, Tillman said there wasn’t enough time for him to implement his system. “I felt like we were playing catch-up all year long with getting to know our players’ strengths and getting to know our opponents because I hadn’t seen these teams,” he said. “This year was a lot harder than I think anybody expected. Ryan Young would not be there sometimes on Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and he really was the quarterback of our offense. We really felt that it was important that he be with his family, but it also limits how complicated you can get because you can’t have one of your more important cogs in the wheel. Yet, I wouldn’t do it any other way.” … With many players rooted in the previous staff’s schemes, Tillman said the current coaches learned that refraining from rocking the boat with too many changes was the best path. “One of the things we really had to take into consideration was, how much did we want to change?” Tillman said. “Having this group and trying to install a lot of different things in the fall, what we learned as the year went on was, we need to keep it simple. Sometimes less is more.” … Two of the Terps’ poorest showings occurred against teams that threw zone defenses at Maryland’s offense. It’s telling that two of the offense’s three least productive displays in both goals and shooting percentage came against North Carolina on March 26 and Virginia in the championship final. Still, Tillman said the Terps have and will continue to solve zone defenses. “If people want to continue to do that, I think that bodes well for us because it allows us to possess the ball, give our defense a rest, wait for the right shot, and manage the game,” he said. “We had our moments when we struggled against man-to-man or zone. The Carolina game early in the year, a lot of people made a lot about the zone, but we saw that zone in the playoffs, and it didn’t seem to be a problem there.”
Personnel changes: The graduation of Young and Catalino leaves a few holes on attack. Sophomore Owen Blye figures to be a starter, and junior Joe Cummings could return to the position which he played as a prep standout at Loyola. “We’ll certainly try that out in the fall,” Tillman said. “Owen looks like he’ll be a mainstay down there. … We’ll try Joe down there.” … The third attackman spot could be competition between freshmen Sean McGuire, Rustin Bryant, Quinn Haley and Brendan Saylor. “Fall will be a little bit of a laboratory for us to try guys out in different spots,” Tillman said. “We’ve asked a number of the guys to play multiple positions in the summer for us just so that they would get a little more experience and that if we asked them to play in a different spot, they might feel a little more comfortable. So we’re going to have to grow up quickly, and we’re going to have to get a sense of who are more quickly than last year.” … The other big gaping hole is on defense. Sophomore Jesse Bernhardt is poised to succeed Brian Farrell at long-stick midfielder, and junior Michael Shakespeare will likely join sophomore Landon Carr as the starting short-stick defensive midfielders. In terms of the three close defensemen spots, freshman Casey Ikeda and Michael Ehrhardt could fill the void created by the graduation of Brett Schmidt, Ryder Bohlander and Max Schmidt. “Individually, we’re not going to be able to make up the experience that they had, the strength they had, some of the intangibles they brought to the table,” Tillman said. “But luckily for us, we do have some good pieces that are there, and a lot of people don’t know who they are yet. But we also have a great system. The good news for us is the system is what makes us successful. It’s the sum of the parts working together on offense and defense. … We’re a team defense. It’s how well those parts work together.” … Maryland will lead all Division I programs with six recruits in the upcoming Under Armour All-American game. Citing North Carolina’s success with its freshmen this past spring, Tillman said the incoming freshmen will have an opportunity to compete for playing time. “If they can come in and play well and be consistent, we’re certainly not going to penalize them for being freshmen,” he said. “If they earn the right to be out there, we owe it to the team to put the best players out on the field. Based on what they’ve done in high school, they’ve proven that they can be successful. So I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t be successful at our level. It’s just going to be a matter of how quickly they can make that transition.”
Forecast for 2011: Partly cloudy. This season’s success exceeded the expectations of many, who had become accustomed to the Terps underperforming. The experience of playing on Memorial Day and the mental toughness acquired throughout the spring should pay dividends for the returning players. But there are some issues to address next season. Cummings could be the finisher that Catalino was, but who will coordinate the offense as Young did? Amato was brilliant, but will he continue his torrid play without three, experienced close defensemen in front of him? Maryland won’t get any sympathy from ACC rivals Duke, North Carolina and 2011 national champion Virginia – all of whom are eager to beat the upstart Terps.